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AI is the Future on Day One of SAPinsider 2024

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Key Takeaways

⇨ AI and transformation are key topics at the SAPinsider 2024 conference

⇨ AI needs data and having the right data strategy is key

⇨ Preparing for the future involves having the right data strategy and hiring the right team members

SAPinsider 2024 kicked off today with an emphasis on artificial intelligence (AI). The focus of both keynotes on day one was the role that AI is playing in organizations today. Futurist Jonathan Brill opened the morning by talking about AI beyond the hype, and how people and organizations can unleash their business and personal potential through technology. Exploring the benefits of AI from a high-level perspective, Brill talked about how much the world will change over the next 20 years as AI makes an impact on the way organizations do business. But organizations must start embracing AI now if they are to be ready for the future.

The opening keynote also included a panel discussion with representatives from Thomson Reuters, Ernst and Young, and Bridgestone, who shared how their organizations are supporting their key transformation initiatives using artificial intelligence and process innovation. The panel covered what the convergence of key business processes like finance and tax means for innovation, how these can help support goals and improve operational efficiency, and how partnerships with service providers, solution partners, and SAP can help accelerate the adoption of technologies like AI and business intelligence.

To wrap up day one, SAPinsider President and Chief Research Officer Riz Ahmed hosted a panel that asked leaders from Boomi, Carrefour, Pacific Coast Companies, and SAP for their perspectives on key trends impacting SAP customers. The conversation started with Carrefour CTO Stijn Stabel talking about how Carrefour’s goal is to become a data centric company, and they are looking for new ways to do business with their data. Data is central to their strategy, and Carrefour wants to have a data supermarket that can be used by all their teams. Boomi CEO Steve Lucas agreed and said data is the fuel on which organizations run. But Lucas also cautioned that data has a similarity to sand in that it is infinitely available, and organizations should be cautious about dumping it all in their data lake.

Marty Menard, CIO of Pacific Coast Companies, said pursuing technologies like AI required the creation of a cyber and technology committee which includes members from the multiple boards that are most passionate about technology. . This committee has helped significantly transform technology in Pacific Coast Companies, and Menard emphasized that CIOs and technology teams need sponsors that support technology initiatives.

Lucas said SAP has been excellent at simplifying the business story and the technology behind it. The problem is the average enterprise today has more than 350 cloud applications and may be struggling to get a comprehensive view of their environment. Boomi is helping organizations address this challenge as they struggle to manage the hybrid-cloud world.  Peter Pluim, SAP’s President of Enterprise Cloud Services, said he also sees that organizations have a lot of software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications. These organizations also have hundreds of custom-built applications that are run and maintained in-house which takes a significant amount of effort. Many of these applications are hidden from large parts of the organization, and managing these applications is a challenge. These hidden applications also are reflected in SAP ERP systems where Pluim stated that 38% of custom objects are not in use. These objects present a significant complexity to any transformation project.

Part of addressing these broader challenges is building the right team. Stabel said with technology moving so quickly it’s hard to pinpoint any specific skill when hiring new team members. This means Carrefour focuses on hiring people who are willing to learn and adapt. He emphasized a willingness to absorb and learn is more important than any specific qualifications.

Menard told a similar story. Pacific Coast Companies look to hire bright, curious people as they grow their organization. Part of this involves a college-mentoring program, where team members are full-time over the summer months and part-time from September to April. Having an in-office environment has made it easy for these young people to collaborate and learn new skills from existing team members. Menard said having passionate team members has been a big part of their recent projects’ success.

Moving to AI, Lucas said everyone has a shared universal experience of the first time they used ChatGPT. To him, it was stunning. But, while many may now be less impressed from that first use, the organizations that have plans in place to leverage AI to achieve radical cost savings will make it impossible for anyone else to compete. The difficult part of the challenge is in getting those who don’t see the benefits on board. Lucas likened this to having an “a-ha” moment. Without that moment, it is more difficult to start using these new capabilities.

Wrapping up the panel, each leader provided some recommendations on how to move forward. For Lucas, the key is grasping the application-to-application environment. One automation platform, like the one Boomi offers, may not be the solution for everyone, but ten also will not work. For Stabel, the first point to remember is it is okay to fail, and leaders should prepare their CEOs for that possibility.  It’s also crucial to educate people. Without turning the light on in the room on this issue, Stabel said people will become uncomfortable and prevent change. But the most important part for Stabel is to keep on having fun and to “live your passion”.

Pluim said technology is not the problem today as it is possible for organizations to get rid of their technical debt so it will never come back if they do this correctly. But there is an immediate need to move. Next is the need to move up the value chain. Resources are scarce and skilled resources are even more scarce. Lastly, Pluim said transformation is not a three-month project. Significant transformation can take from one to six years, and milestones must be built-in for teams to celebrate achievements along the way.

Last, Menard said the big challenge for today is managing data. This is crucial as, for many companies, there is ten times as much unstructured data as SAP data. Next is the value of education. For teams in IT, it’s crucial to lead when it comes to education and be smart about doing that education. As a last point, Menard said that being able to have the conversation around the problem the organization is trying to solve is critical, especially since there often is confusion about the problem itself, but only then can organizations effectively discuss the right tool to solve the problem and bring it back to the business.

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